Mainframers do talk to people but, typically, they rarely get called upon to give a presentation. They have probably sat through plenty of them in their career, basic training courses, GUIDE SHARE presentations, IBM conferences, etc., but what should they do when they are asked to give a presentation themselves? What if it’s less of a technical presentation and they can’t hide behind a wall of acronyms? Here are some ideas.
Write to Engage
The temptation for many is to write their presentation, and then put most of the text on some slides—which has been described as an inability to tell documentation from a presentation. They then simply read the slides to their totally-underwhelmed audience. So what should they have done?
Writing the presentation is a great start. The next step is to try to frame it—turn it into a logical narrative with a start, middle and end. Audiences like stories, everyone likes stories. The obvious frame for your presentation is a problem you came up against, the options you looked at and finally the successful conclusion. This helps the audience fit the facts that you’re going to talk about into a cohesive whole. It’s more likely to make sense.
Practice, Practice Again
Learn what you need to say and practice until it comes as naturally as chatting to someone over a coffee. It’s as if you’re just answering their question in a chatty and informal way. When I say practice it, I don’t mean just once or twice, I mean practice until you really know what you have to say. Practice on your own and practice in front of people. Make sure you know your subject inside out. Then you’ll sound like an expert.
But knowing what you’re talking about is only part of the story. The next stage is to look as if you know what you’re talking about. Think about the difference between a teacher who walked quietly into a classroom and tried (in vain) to get everyone to stop and listen, and the teacher who strode into the room, looking as if he or she owned the space, and, with a withering glance, made everyone sit down and listen. That’s how you need to appear. Stand up straight, stand still and make eye contact with the audience. Your body language is saying listen to me, and people will. Philosopher and psychologist William James discovered that if you act in a particular way, your body senses that and assumes that that must be how you are feeling. So behave on stage like the most confident speaker you have ever seen, and that’s how you’ll feel. And when you talk, talk loudly enough for everyone to hear. Don’t shout, and if you’re using a microphone, you can speak at a more conversational volume.
Because you know your stuff—you know exactly what you’re going to say and the order you’re going to say it—you don’t need to have the text of your talk on your slides. You can use your slides to show pictures. Remember the saying that a picture’s worth a thousand words, so a good picture will reinforce what you’re saying. Yes, you can have some key words or phrases, but not too many. Nobody likes a speaker who reads at them. But this will create an excellent impression and people will understand what you’re telling them.
So your slides won’t have too many words – you can send out the speaker comments afterwards if people want that level of information. The presentation should have plenty of pictures. Some of those pictures can be cartoons because people like to laugh. It’s a good idea to prepare some humorous stories to illustrate various points in your presentation—e.g., that snowy midnight when the network went down!
What can you do beforehand, when you’re waiting to go on and worried that your nerves will get the better of you? Firstly, remember that the body only has a very limited repertoire of responses to stress. Whether you’re stepping into the ring for a boxing match, taking a maths exam or preparing to give a presentation, your body will produce adrenalin and cortisol, your heart rate will go up, blood will be rerouted away from your intestines and sent to your muscles, and you’ll be in fight or flight mode. Don’t worry about it. It means that your body is behaving normally.
To relax, think about occasions when you have been completely relaxed and confident. If you can’t remember ever being relaxed and confident, then imagine what it feels like. You’ll find the fight or flight feelings really do subside. You can also think of someone you know who’s always relaxed and confident. Imagine how they’re feeling. Then imagine stepping into their body and feeling their feelings. Again, it will relax you. You can also imagine a successful conclusion to the talk. The applause goes on for ages, there’s a standing ovation. Imagine your face with such a huge smile on it. If you expect success, that’s what you will get.
Talk With the Audience
Great presenters interact with the audience. You may not feel confident asking them to stand up and sit down, but you can ask them to raise their hand (and the question has to be related to the topic you’re speaking about). You can also talk to members of the audience you recognize before you start. You can always talk about the weather, parking, what’s in the news, the latest sporting results. Someone will chat back to you. They are engaged with you—they like you! During the presentation, make eye contact with people you know or anyone who doesn’t look too fierce That way, the audience feels that you’re talking to them.
But what if you have glossophobia, the fear of public speaking? What can you do? Neuro-Linguistic Programming offers techniques such as the fast phobia cure, anchoring and circle of excellence, among others. These can help to remove the phobia and give you techniques to stay calm before your successful presentation.
Armed with these techniques, the most reclusive of mainframers will be able to give a great presentation—and they might very well find themselves enjoying it!
Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and has been an IBM Champion every year since 2009.